NEW DELHI: Tensions have escalated between India and Australia over the upcoming Khalistan Referendum organised by the pro-secessionist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) on Monday in the city of Brisbane.
The Indian government has demanded a ban on voting, which seeks to create an independent Khalistan state for Sikhs in India, citing its potential to challenge India’s territorial integrity.
However, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has refused to stop the legal right to expression of pro-Khalistan Sikhs in Australia, stating that all local laws are being followed.
The dispute has led to protests and the closure of Indian diplomatic facilities in Australia. Last week, dozens of pro-Khalistan Sikhs forced the closure of India’s honorary consulate in Brisbane by blockading the entry and raising slogans for justice.
On Monday, the Australian government issued an updated travel advisory for its citizens against traveling to India, citing a “high risk of violence” in certain states, including the northwestern state of Punjab. The advisory has irked the Indian government, which has taken up the issue with the Australian authorities.
The recent alleged incidents of attacks on temples in Australia as well as pro-Khalistani activities in that country were raised by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese in a recent phone call.
The Indian leader had reportedly expressed concern after over 50,000 Sikhs turned up to vote for the Khalistan Referendum in Melbourne for the first phase at the end of January this year, which led to clashes between Sikhs and Hindu groups outside the voting centre and several arrests.
SFJ has accused hardline Hindutva supporters in Australia of attacking Sikhs and defacing Khalistan banners hung at Sikh temples. SFJ General Counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has declared that the March 19 “Battlefield-Brisbane” Khalistan Referendum Voting Centre is dedicated to Harmeet Singh Bhaowal and Baljinder Kaur, who were bombed to death along with their nine-month-old son Pavittar Singh by the Indian police forces in Haryana in 1992.
“While Modi regime is pursuing violence to crush the Khalistan Referendum, SFJ is using voting to resolve the decades-old conflict between the Sikhs and the Union of India,” said Pannun in a video message. He urged PM Albanese to educate PM Modi that seeking secession and independence through voting cannot be labelled as terrorism in a democracy.
The Australian government has also advised its citizens not to travel to Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the India-Pakistan border (except the Atari-Wagah border crossing) due to the risk of armed clashes.
The March 19 voting will take place at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, a government-owned facility, while pro-India Hindu groups are expected to hold a counter-protest.__Pakistan Today